The idea of taking a French river cruise was SO appealing. I had images of us floating lazily down the rivers of France, stopping at lovely old towns to wander around and take in the atmosphere and history, without the hassle of unpacking and lugging our things with us. How wrong we were. The cruise we took in May 2012 with Avalon Waterways on the Scenery was a living hell. If you choose to pay big bucks to be herded around like cattle, treated like school boarders who have to eat, drink, shower at certain times and wind up exhausted after being bussed EVERY day, don't say I didn't warn you.
The crew on the boat was superb and did their best to accommodate the needs of the passengers but too many things went wrong. For a start, the rooms (even the "good" ones) are very small, requiring one person to jump on the bed to allow the other to move around the cabin. The double beds have 2 separate single quilts so that you are always uncovered in the middle...hardly luxury! The food was not a reflection of the local cuisine. Every night we had to put up with long multiple course meals that blended into sameness after a couple of nights. Good food, but I would rather have been supporting local businesses.
The Saone River was in flood, (a fact known to the cruise company before we boarded) so we could not berth at the first little town and had to be bussed back to visit it. Then we were stuck for another couple of days in no-man's land outside Lyon as, again, we could not get under a bridge. Again, we spent days in buses. We were missing out on the very things we paid for on the cruise...time to relax on the boat and the ability to wander from the boat directly into the towns we were to visit.
Then, when we finally cleared the bridge and entered the Rhone, the electrics on the boat blew. We were forced to berth next to a camping ground and troupe off the boat, down a lane and into the communal washrooms to use their facilities. For the next 24 hours as we had no water, toilets, air con, refrigeration etc. The smell of the rotting garbage which had been piling up for days began to permeate the now aircon- free lounge! The poor crew tried their best, but that doesn't help when you only do this cruise once.
To make up for lost time after the boat was repaired, we were bussed for hours to Avignon for a tragically hurried view of this great city. Herding 120 around DOES take time and becomes very tedious for anyone who is used to being an independent traveler. We were more than disappointed at the 2 minute view of the famous bridge! Then, back on the busses to catch up with the boat.
Every evening, many hours are taken up with a "port talk", which you must attend if you have any hope of keeping up with the crowded, confusing schedule, and long, tedious dinners going over the same conversations while you wait for the next course. It can be fun for a short time, but gives no opportunity for down time. I would much rather a choice of a quick healthy meal and time to relax in my cabin reading or sitting on the upper deck. The time allocated for these pastimes was so little, I felt we were being rushed everywhere.
One more point, we didn't realize that you have to pay extra for almost all shore excursions. You would be wasting your money travelling through France and not seeing as much as possible, but it did add to the costs. In our case, because of the various disasters, several of the shore excursions were cancelled.
All up, I would NEVER recommend going on a cruise. When we left the boat we spent another month doing our own thing in Europe. The ability to decide when and where you did things, the massive savings compared with the cost of the cruise make independent travel the ONLY way to go for us in the future.